Let’s Talk About Byron Buxton’s Swing
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsThis spring, as Buxton strolled into camp with a new swing, he proudly proclaimed -- channeling his inner Frank Sinatra -- that he did it his way.
“It’s my swing, my thought process, my thinking, everything with my swing now is me,” he told Dan Hayes of The Athletic. “I didn’t go to no hitting coach, I didn’t go work out with nobody, I worked out by myself, I hit by myself and that’s where it’s going to stay.”
Whether Buxton made all the changes alone, applied some direction from James Rowson and other coaches on staff, had secretly hired a team of tech nerds to design an algorithm that would lead to the world’s most optimal mechanics, or has a magic hitting cow that whispers tips from outside the cage, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Buxton has truly unlocked something.
There’s undoubtedly been an ebb and flow surrounding Byron Buxton and whether he has FOUND IT offensively dating back to the end of 2016 when he hit 9 home runs in September after returning with a massive leg kick in his swing.
But, while still using the leg kick, he lost whatever IT was in early 2017.
But then he found IT again later that season after much soul-searching and Molitor prodding to ditch the leg kick.
Then it turns out he broke a big toe, hurt his wrist and everything else in 2018 and couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat.
(Can I go now?)
Based on that track record, proclaiming that he has FOUND IT is going to be met with skepticism. While that is a natural human emotion, what follows is granular swing biomechanics that should confirm that Byron Buxton has indeed FOUND IT again -- and possibly for good this time.
As previously mentioned, these changes are not as obvious as his leg kick-no leg kick on again/off-again Ross-and-Rachel relationship. That said, there are several adaptations in Buxton’s swing that stand out as significant drivers for his early season statistical success.
The first driver was creating a stretch point in his swing prior to the launch.
As noted this spring, Buxton adjusted his mechanics to create separation from his top half and lower half. Previously Buxton would step and swing in one motion. It was a constant drift forward which denied him time to recognize a pitch as well as build tension. Now, when he steps forward, his hands go back and hold for a nanosecond. This creates resistance. This move helps reduce slack in his midsection, giving him a rubber band effect between his hands and his front leg. There’s stored tension in his abdomen at his launch point that helps connect the energy in his lower and upper half.
Look at Buxton at the launch point last year versus this year:
Not long after I posted this video in March, the Star Tribune’s Lavelle Neal scoffed at me in a Fort Myers bar. There’s no way that does much of anything he told me. Beside, he said, you can’t even see much of a difference. It’s hard to argue with the Mayor of Fort Myers but I did my best explaining why that was important.
True, this may seem like a minor change but the ability to generate power is contingent on utilizing all the muscles. Buxton added mass this offseason but that alone won’t create pop if the swing is not optimized. This year, by gaining that tension point, he has applied more force which has led to an increase in his exit velocity from 86.8 to 92.4. In his overall pool of batted balls, in 2018, 29 percent of his balls in play were hit 95+ mph compared to 46 percent so far this year.
The second driver relates to his ability to lift the ball.
In 2018 Buxton had an average launch angle of 10.7 degrees. With a below average launch angle, it is no surprise that he maintained a ground ball rate of 49 percent. Since the beginning of his major league career, Buxton has had a ground ball rate of over 40 percent each season. If he were to take steps forward in his career and put up numbers that were more super unicorn of him, he would need to hit the ball hard in the air.
So far this year, he has had a ground ball rate of under 30 percent.
Over the last few years, as more players have tried to change their swings to join the fly ball revolution, the common refrain from ball guy announcers is that those players are DROPPING THEIR BACK SHOULDERS and using LAUNCH ANGLE SWINGS. To be sure, there’s no such thing as a LAUNCH ANGLE SWING at least no more than there is a VELOCITY THROW for pitcher. So what can players do to increase their aerial assault without being accused of swinging for the fences?
One of the biggest factors in creating more elevation for Buxton has been his ability to keep from rolling his top hand right after contact.
If you watch his 2018 swing, you will often see patterns that resemble a tennis swing that imparts top spin on the ball as his wrists prematurely roll over. Comparatively this year’s swing he is over exaggerating the follow through to keep his wrists from breaking -- Buxton gets extension in his swing as he moves the bat forward at the pitcher rather than pulling around immediately.
This is another angle showing how well he keeps from rolling:
The results have been that Buxton has hit more balls in the air this year (17 degree launch angle coupled with just a 26 percent ground ball rate).
There’s another driver that has also allowed Buxton to remain flexible in his swing and that is creating space.
In 2018 Buxton demonstrated the tendency to keep his lead arm close to his chest at contact, leaving little space and, with it, lost some adjustability. Pitchers would frequently blow Buxton up with velocity on the inner third with the center fielder unable to get the barrel to the part of the zone once he started his swing. However, if you start with spacing, hitters are more able to adapt to pitches in other areas of the zone. Now, rotating his shoulders and arms as one big triangle, Buxton has spacing between his chest. This provides a better connected swing that goes beyond just arms and hands, an ability to adjust as well as allows the barrel to stay on plane longer, according to the Twins’ minor league hitting coordinator Pete Fatse.
In summation, Buxton is creating more power by creating a stretch point and harnessing tension in his midsection. He’s generating more line drives and fly balls but extending his swing through the contact point and not rolling over. And last, he’s added spacing in his swing that gives him some adjustability to conquer either side of the plate.
Buxton’s career has been a strange one. He is supremely talented but has not established a long enough stretch of performing at the elite level to match his prospect status. If he can stay healthy and avoid crashing into too many walls or teammates, Byron Buxton of 2019 could finally live up to everyone’s expectation.
- Yoke, diehardtwinsfan, h2oface and 9 others like this